Book Review The Emperor of Ocean Park
by Linda Watkins

“…Mr. Carter wrote a winner…in more ways than he probably knows.”

Life as a Chess Game Between Blacks and Whites

The compelling fiction, The Emperor of Ocean Park, by author Stephen L.

Carter disputes the old myth that African-Americans born with silver spoons in their mouth have it easy in life. Mr. Carter's honest, in-depth detailing of upper-class black American lifestyles brings to light the fact, regardless of privilege, well-to-do is not all it is cracked up to be. Seems that affluent blacks still have to contend with racism, jealousy, temptation, defeat and overdue bills. Their husbands and wives do cheat, lie and manipulate. The parents hide secrets, and friends are not always friends. Incest occurs, accidents happen, and loathing runs rampant among peers.

The main character and narrator is Talcott "Misha" Garland, the son of Judge Oliver Garland, who was once nominated for a Supreme Court seat. Talcott leads us on a journey of how a well-bred, well-educated, proud and sometimes cynical man struggles with his insecurities, guilt, family, loyalty, love and loss. Caught up in a one-sided marriage with Kimberly "Kimmer" Madison, a power driven, snobbish, bratty attorney that makes three times the salary he does as a law professor, Talcott struggles to maintain the image of the dutiful husband, and fight off thoughts of her infidelity and distant love.

When the Judge is found dead in his study, Talcott finds himself hounded for "the arrangements" his father left behind in his care. The problem is, Talcott doesn't know what they consist of either. Trying to unravel the past of a father, whose powerful shadow comes crashing down upon him, Talcott is forced to re-evaluate the individuals surrounding him who are hungry for revenge and power . . . people whom he once admired, and a few he loathed, most of them very wealthy, very white, and very determined to have their way.

Mariah Garland, Talcott's rich sister has her own theory as to what is happening, believing their father has been murdered for secrets he held. Addison, the oldest brother, who hosts a radio talk show, avoids it all, keeping what he knows to himself.

In a world that is hidden to most, Mr. Carter gives very descriptive glimpses of Martha's Vineyard, including the "Inkwell, an enclave for the black elite," an imaginary city called "Elm Harbor," and celebrity-strewn Aspen, Colorado. His dead-on dramatization of how careers, greed and self-righteousness affect all people, regardless of their race is an eye-opener. Carter's examination of the indignities that upwardly mobile African Americans must endure to survive in a predominately white world is a subject seldom discussed and he is to be commended for his even handed treatment, and for choosing to bring this issue to light.

In some instances he is a little wordy. I could have done without all the mention of papers, periodicals and files that surrounded his sister during her search for information and the over-kill of certain images. I did enjoy the way Carter chose chess to motivate his story. The language of the game was fascinating and the correlation to life astonishing. He sums it up quite nicely with his father's belief, " . . . white moved first, white usually won, black could only react to what white did, and even if black played a perfect game he still had to wait for white to make a mistake before he would have any hope of winning . . ."

In my opinion, Mr. Carter wrote a winner . . . in more ways than he probably knows.


Related Links

The Emperor of Ocean Park Reviewed by Thumper

New England White by Stephen L. Carter Reviewed by Kam Williams